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Tuesday, Sep 21, 2021

Professor Spotlight: Richard Fallis

Former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Richard Fallis is a fan of his students, model trains and the Irish poet William B. Yeats.

Fallis is originally from Nashville, Tenn., and attended Wake Forest University before attending Princeton University for graduate school. At the time that he enrolled, the Ford administration felt that there was a lack of English and history teachers, so they gave a grant to several universities to move students quickly through the graduate programs. Fallis accepted his free ride to Princeton and graduated in ’71 with a Ph.D. in English.

“I was much too young to have a Ph.D.,” Fallis said jokingly.

Fallis met his wife Jean at Princeton. In his third year, the previously all-male university began to allow women into the program.

“The great concern was ‘Oh, they’ll all just run off and get married.’ We were the first ones to get married,” Fallis said. His wife, a Toronto native, finished her Ph.D. in English as well.

They will have been married 40 years next January and have one son, 34, who lives in Macon too.

After they both had graduated, the Fallises moved to Syracuse, N.Y., so that Fallis could teach at Syracuse University. At Syracuse, Fallis served as chair of the English department and director of the masters and doctoral programs. Fallis admitted that he wanted to teach at a place like Mercer originally but he couldn’t find a job at a place like Mercer, so he took the job he was offered.

“You go to one of those big schools and you think, ‘Well, it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like to work in this kind of place.’ Then you settle in, you have a child, you make connections, you buy a house. So 24 years later, it seemed like a good idea to move,” Fallis said.

They moved to Fallis’ hometown of Nashville where he became the dean of humanities at Belmont University for six years.

In 2001, Fallis moved to Macon to become part of Mercer University. He previously served as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, but he now serves as a professor.

Fallis said that he enjoys teaching more than being a dean. Being a dean requires an enormous amount of administrative work, but has its high points too.

“The most satisfying things you do as a dean are hiring new faculty and trying to support when people have good ideas for good projects. While I was dean—the nine years I was in that job—we made a lot of progress on service learning, we made a lot of progress on opening up the curriculum, we added programs like the Global Health program and chemistry and biology created their program. Where being a dean is frustrating is that there is never enough money, so you get some good things done and you see some other things that just don’t happen because there aren’t the resources. I’m sure that’s true of other institutions like Harvard, too,” Fallis said.

Fallis is currently teaching three classes: 480S Yeats, FYS 102 and an Honors 311 course. Next semester he will be teaching FYS 101, Irish Renaissance and the second half of the British literature survey course.

Fallis does not necessarily have a favorite course, but he enjoys certain parts of each class.

“It’s hard to say. I’ve really enjoyed all three of them this semester. I really like the Yeats class. I enjoy Yeats’ poetry; it’s fun to talk it with other people. If it’s a good class then almost any kind of teaching is fun,” Fallis said. “The Yeats class has shown me things I hadn’t thought about. To me, that’s part of the real satisfaction—when you’re learning something too and not throwing out information.”

Originally Fallis was concerned with teaching FYS because he did not know if he would be able to relate to the freshmen.

“I think we’ve had a pretty good time. We’ve had some good discussions. They’re really wonderful, on occasion seeing things that I don’t see. That’s what you want in a class. If the students aren’t learning, the teacher hasn’t taught. If the teacher isn’t learning, the teacher hasn’t taught,” Fallis said.

Fallis also said that he enjoys being back in the classroom because he can finally have a summer off, his first one in about 20 years.

When he does have spare time, Fallis enjoys building model trains and listening to music. He is interested in the development of performance history of classical music. Last summer, he and his wife bought a house in North Carolina that will be their summer (and possibly retirement) home. It is located within walking distance of the music center.

“We can walk, except at night because you get all these crazy old people driving like maniacs. We decided that maybe we’ll take the car over there at night,” Fallis said.

Fallis also has an 11-year-old cat named Tiger.

“I’ve let him get into a really annoying habit that each morning he wants his English muffin, so I have to sit there and hold the other end of it while he licks the butter off it. Which is kind of cute, but after a while it’s not so cute. But he doesn’t know that,” Fallis said.



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